Preparing Students to Lose Their Jobs (And Faculty To Keep Theirs)

College campus in New Orleans

by Alan Ritacco and Heather E. McGowan

(Learn more in the recorded webcast: The Future of Work and the Academy)

Abstract: A recent study reveals that young people today could have as many as 16-17 different jobs in 5 industries.

As the rate of technological change becomes exponential, the future of work requires adapting to change, recognizing job failure as a norm, and (since we are living longer) a longer career arc in which to experience many different and uniquely distinct careers.

Are most institutions of higher education preparing students for this reality?

According to the recent report by the Foundation for Young Australians, The New Work Mindset (a study built upon the Future of Work research studies of both the McKinsey Global Institute and the World Economic Forum), young people today could have as many as 16-17 different jobs in 5 industries:

Graph: Portability of Jobs Across Industries

And considering that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are more than 1.5 million involuntary and 3 million voluntary separations per month, the fact is: job loss and job change are a norm. Job change, whether voluntary or involuntary, is part of having a professional career. As higher education professionals, we prepare students for their first professional jobs. We, as an industry, should prepare students not only for their first jobs, but also to make jobs, and to adapt and reinvent themselves when they lose their jobs.

Graphic: Impact of Extended Human Longevity

According to futurist Ray Kurzweil, who has made 147 predictions about technology with an 86% accuracy rate, we will not experience 100 years' worth of progress in the 21st century. Instead, we will see the equivalent of 20,000 years of change and advancement (at today’s rate), due to exponential growth in computing power. A report by Deloitte University Press on the impact of this accelerating change predicts that 50% of the content in an undergraduate degree will be obsolete within five years. NYT Columnist Thomas Friedman has summed this situation up: “Anything mentally routine or predictable can and will be achieved by an algorithm.”

As a result of these forces and emerging realities, whereas productivity shifts were once absorbed across a lifetime, allowing workers to adjust at pace, these shifts are now occurring on an exponential growth curve, where change whipsaws workers from job to job, from employer to employer, career to career. In this reality, learning and adapting become the only constants. The future of work is adapting to change, failure as a norm, and (since we are living longer) a longer career arc in which to experience many different and uniquely distinct careers.

Are most institutions of higher education embracing this reality?


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